From warning to training to terminal @ Washington State Ferries’ winter meeting

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Washington State Ferries‘ staffing shortage isn’t just about difficulty in hiring.

WSF says it’s also having trouble holding onto workers, WSF says, for reasons including abusive customers.

So, WSF managers said today at the first of two online community meetings, they’re trying something new: Violate the Code of Conduct, and you’ll get handed a yellow card. Rule violations could even lead to WSF calling in the State Patrol to have you “trespassed” – ordered to stay away from WSF vessels/facilities. Here’s what the card will say on its two sides (printed on yellow stock, WSF says):

Ferry riders will hear announcements about this soon. The new effort is needed, WSF says, because its employees are subject to abuse including threats and racist and sexist insults. “We can’t rebuild this workforce if employees don’t feel it’s safe or if they feel we aren’t supporting them.” Will line-cutting be included? asked one meeting attendee. No, WSF says, as most of that happens off WSF property.

Here’s what else the hour-and-a-half meeting – which will be offered again at 6 pm Thursday – touched on:

BACK TO THE STAFFING SHORTAGE: As was explained at the last round of ferry-system community meetings six months ago, WSF is short on people, and that’s a major factor holding up full restoration of service on many routes. (The Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route has been on two boats instead of three for many months.) So WSF leaders including top boss Patty Rubstello and chief of staff Nicole McIntosh exhaustively explained training and recruiting efforts, after detailing the shortage:

They’re also working on accelerating training programs aimed at moving employees up the ladder: “In essence, we’re growing our own.” Once they have more qualified crew members, they’ll be more able to fully restore routes. Another six-week training program starts this weekend. In some cases they’re also trying to make the positions more attractive – offering more full-time work, for example.

SPEAKING OF RESTORING ROUTES: WSF is currently testing restored full service on the Edmonds/Kingston route, and once that’s declared a success, it’ll be on to testing restored full three-boat service on the Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth route. No projected date, though.

VESSEL SHORTAGE: Having enough boats is also vital, along with having enough crew. Part of that involves maintenance and repair of the current fleet; WSF says three boats that would otherwise be retired soon will have to be kept in service – Yakima, Kaleetan, Tillikum. It’s also working toward building five new hybrid-electric ferries, though the first won’t be ready before mid-2027; M/V Wenatchee is being converted to hybrid-electric and will be back in service on the Seattle/Bainbridge route early next year.

FAUNTLEROY TERMINAL PROJECT: WSF offered quick updates on projects including this one. Rubstello noted that more than 700 community comments have been received in the past year. Next milestone is completion of the Planning and Environmental Linkage study by year’s end. (That appears to be a timeline slip, as the project website lists midyear for completion.) She reiterated that two options are now under consideration – either rebuilding the dock/terminal at its current size or expanding it, in the current location, to 124 to 186 cars. Later, in Q&A, someone asked if a second slip was under consideration. WSF’s David Sowers said it’s not currently in the plan but wouldn’t rule it out if it were shown to have “a significant operational value.”

ONE MORE NOTE: Toward the start of the meeting, Rubstello offered some toplines from the past year:

A recording will be posted to the WSF website, but in the meantime, you’re invited to see/hear the same content presented at 6 pm tomorrow night (with written Q/A accepted during the meeting) – register here to get the link.

P.S. Here’s the full slide deck from the meeting.

24 Replies to "From warning to training to terminal @ Washington State Ferries' winter meeting"

  • Lamont January 11, 2023 (9:22 pm)

    Some days I think we need mandatory yearly education refreshers on how to be an adult.

    • Lisa J January 12, 2023 (12:20 am)

      I agree! I feel this sign needs to be placed there “The whole world is short staffed. Be kind to the ones that showed up”

      • Katie M January 12, 2023 (8:03 am)

        I am borrowing that line, Lisa–thank you! I couldn’t agree more. Well said :) We have such a great community.

      • Fauntleroy fairies January 12, 2023 (8:37 am)

        Yes Lisa—thank you! More kindness reminders like that would do!

  • Seattlite January 12, 2023 (12:02 am)

    Common courtesy, manners seem to be waning.  Civility should be the norm not the exception.

    • Jay January 12, 2023 (8:48 am)

      It’s getting better with subsequent generations. Racism, sexism, and other harassment would have had to be quietly tolerated 20 years ago, but today WSF feels safe in announcing a plan to trespass people who engage in this poor behavior.

      • wseattleite January 12, 2023 (10:48 am)

        That is one opinion. I don’t see civil behavior getting better. I see a lot of entitlement that drives civility the other way. 

        • WS Res January 12, 2023 (12:40 pm)

          It’s possible you see it more because 1) you’re more sensitized to it, 2) people are pushing back on it more openly, and 3) a segment of the population feels emboldened to “say the quiet part out loud” and adopt the aggressive stance of their idols.

    • James January 13, 2023 (10:30 am)

      I think manners are WAY better now. People are less racist and sexist now than 20 years ago. 

  • DH January 12, 2023 (6:47 am)

    It’s sad they are having to do this but I’m glad they are taking a stand. Hopefully they will follow through and protect their staff from abusive people. 

  • Azimuth January 12, 2023 (8:05 am)

    the ferry crew from the ticketing to the vessel operations have always been excellent to me.

  • Bill January 12, 2023 (11:53 am)

    I agree that the Code of Conduct is good, and that it is a sad state of affairs that we now have to have such a code in place.  I wonder though if this code goes both ways – Right before the pandemic a deck worker on the Anacortes/Orcas route made some sexist remarks about my wife driving my truck as we got off the ferry in Anacortes.  My daughters overheard it and still make jokes about him whenever we get on or off a ferry.  Ferries was made aware of the problem at the time, but that person still has a job there.  We saw him just last month, still directing cars.

    • WS Res January 12, 2023 (12:41 pm)

      Did you feel he should lose his job over the comment?  Hopefully the Ferry authority spoke with him and reminded him to show more courtesy to the customers.

      • Bill January 12, 2023 (10:17 pm)

        if it happens in the future, under the new code of conduct, I would expect he would be trespassed just like any other violator. 

        • WS Res January 13, 2023 (8:37 am)

          First few comments: “Yay, kindness!”  Later comments: “Looking forward to getting someone fired!”

    • Ly January 12, 2023 (12:49 pm)

      Eww. I hate those kinds of comments. I would email WSF and remind them this should go both ways, if it’s not already indicated clearly. Passengers need to feel safe and comfortable too.

  • M January 12, 2023 (12:51 pm)

    I still can’t find a report about what caused the ferry/dock crash last summer.  Does anyone know if there has been official word?  It feels like they’re trying to sweep the cause under the rug and hope it’s forgotten about.  A friend told me she heard someone was at the helm that wasn’t trained to be.  

    • WSB January 12, 2023 (1:59 pm)

      No, there has not. Confirmed that with WSF last week when checking on M/V Cathlamet’s status (still undergoing repairs) and I’m also independently watching the online files. Federal reports on things like this take many months; this one was “only” six months ago.

      • Paul Hage January 13, 2023 (1:23 pm)

        We made three crossings to WS in months prior to the dock damage – each with a strange too-far-to-the-south approach.  Did not think about it until seeing pictures of the damage to both vessel and piles.

  • 22blades January 12, 2023 (1:15 pm)

    I have no faith in the WSF’s efforts. after slinging a racial slur by a dockworker, I stopped & questioned him. Followed up with multiple calls to management. Performative compliance. Zero. Never heard anything. Been riding the ferries regularly since 1976.

  • WS4life January 12, 2023 (4:33 pm)

    Ef around and find out!  

  • David Larson January 12, 2023 (11:42 pm)

    A lot of people are just plan rude, if someone is in service position treat them with respect. Say hello, please, thank you, smile and be kind to everyone. Not just service workers everyone. I’m 66 and I don’t like the 21 century, a lot of people are horrible.

  • Thank you ferry workers and law enforcement !officers January 13, 2023 (10:20 am)

    Huge shout out to all of our dedicated police and WSP officers who, on a daily basis, kindly and firmly manage the line of rush hour cars onto the ferry dock.  Plus, these officers are even dog friendly as folks use the crosswalk!!  Many thanks!!!

  • Allie January 14, 2023 (11:23 pm)

    Totally out of the blue, a man screamed racist abuse at my 16 year old son on the Clinton to Muk ferry as he was going to Everett Community College for Running Start in high school. When I reported it, the ferry system said it couldn’t do anything about it, which I found to be very inadequate, & not a little racist itself, at the time, 2017. Hopefully this new system will give WSF a way to protect not only ferry workers but also riders. 

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